The five stages of underwear in a relationship

"If it’s not comfortable or you’re wearing it simply to please someone else, I would advise you to think twice about the ...
"If it’s not comfortable or you’re wearing it simply to please someone else, I would advise you to think twice about the underwear and the other person.” Photo: Shutterstock

Nothing indicates the stage of a relationship better than the underwear we choose to wear while in it: our partnerships and levels of desire fluctuate over time, so – whether we are in plunging necklines or nude-coloured granny knickers – what is worn underneath can convey just where we are in our long-term unions.

As a former manager at Sydney plus-size lingerie store Brava Lingerie, Kathleen Agius agrees that underwear changes as our relationships develop.

“We move from seamless and sexy to expertly fitted and enjoyable to wear, with everything in between,” she says.

So, what are the stages?

New lust

Those first invigorating months of a new relationship are like gulping water from a fire hydrant. Our desire to drink in this new person dominates our thoughts.

Once things get hot and heavy, we unleash our sexiest selves. It might not be feathered angel wings of a Victoria’s Secret model, but matching lace lingerie that lifts and pushes in all the right places, with peep holes that hint at what’s to come are likely to feature. Sexy, risqué, kinky: there are options for all tastes.

But wearing alluring underwear isn’t just for our partners. says Professor Carolyn Mair, author of The Psychology of Fashion.

“Wearing sexy underwear can make us feel sexy, even if no-one sees it," she explains. "Feeling sexy can make us appear more physically attractive because we can behave differently: from how our posture, language, gesticulations, and outerwear to the invitations we accept and who we interact with.”

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Get comfy – think before you G-string

When things move into that blissful, cosy phase in a relationship – when know that, if we do something outrageous like pass wind, the relationship won’t blow apart – the undergarments transition.

"When we feel secure in a relationship, and know being sexually appealing comes from more than what we wear, that we are desired for more than being seen as sexy, we might decide that comfort takes priority,” Professor Mair says.

We are liberated from the itchiness and atomic wedgies associated with G-strings that we tolerated because, well, lust, in favour of still-sexy but more comfortable underwear. Maybe there’s some silky drawers, bright briefs or cute boyleg numbers but there’s no longer the risk of an unplanned colonoscopy courtesy of a strappy red-glitter thong.

Maternity & post-baby

The underwear situation takes a dive when our bodies are full of baby.

Comfort and practicality are the only considerations now. The Big Kahunas of underwear kick in during the post-birth phase; maxi pads the size of surfboards are not easily housed in skimpy intimates, so full coverage is a must.

Maternity bras are the obvious choice because feeding a screaming, starving baby quickly and easily certainly trumps enticing our partners. Also, wearing lace near leaking, swollen breasts and grazed nipples is as unappealing as listening to a five-year-old play the recorder.

Suck it in, ladies

Post-baby bodies wreak lasting havoc on some of us and middle age isn’t particularly kind either so this is the inviting phase of suck-it-in undies.

We finally have enough energy to get ourselves out of the house and dress up to feel human. However, muffin tops spilling over skinny jeans don’t do much for the self-esteem so praise the shapewear lords as we pour ourselves into those industrial-strength elasticised britches.

Although some view them as a godsend, Professor Mair would like to see more women ditch the shapewear and feel confident about their post-baby bodies. “It’s a pity that women feel ashamed of their bodies showing the natural results of pregnancy and childbirth.”

Acceptance underwear

As our relationships head into the sunny horizon of multiple-decade wedding anniversaries, we often turn to the billowing bloomers worn by our grandmas: "acceptance underwear", as a friend so fondly calls them. They are the undergarments we choose when we finally let our body be what it is, when we no longer obsess over impressing others with our wares. This is a time for underwear that is functional and quality-made. Or maybe we decide this is the phase when we pull out whatever we lacked the confidence to wear in our early years: cue the snake-skin G-strings and lime green crushed velvet bras.

After all her time fitting women for lingerie, Agius has observed that, somewhere between suck-it-in and acceptance undies, “women have an epiphany that sees them deciding they’ll wear whatever the hell they want".

"Women want to accept where they’re at and they want to find underwear that represents that,” she says.

And Professor Mair has a final recommendation: “If it’s not comfortable or you’re wearing it simply to please someone else, I would advise you to think twice about the underwear and the other person.”

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